In 1871, the Western Union Telegraph Company introduced its money transfer service, based on its extensive telegraph network. As the telephone replaced the telegraph, money transfers became the company’s primary business. Starting early in the 1980s, Western Union began sending money outside the country, reinventing itself as “the fastest way to send money worldwide” and expanding its vast electronic agent locations internationally.
Today, scammers use Western Union as a conduit for their unsuspecting victims to transfer money to them. Con artists use all types of ruses and stories to convince people to wire them money. And, historically, once the money was transferred to the scammer, the victims were powerless to get it back.
All that changed last January when Western Union agreed to pay $586 million to resolve the charges of complacency in a massive torrent of fraud-related money transfers, claiming the company failed to act after receiving “hundreds of thousands of complaints” from consumers that lost money to scams funneled through the company’s money transfer system.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco explained, “Knowing that its agents were involved in fraudulent schemes and knowing that it had a legal obligation to detect and report this criminal conduct to the authorities, Western Union failed to act, leading to massive victim losses. Returning forfeited funds to these victims and other victims of crime is one of the Department’s highest priorities.”
The US Department of Justice is handling refunds, or “remission,” established by the settlement. If you, or someone you know, such as a family member, lost money to a scammer who had the victim pay using Western Union between Jan. 1, 2004, and Jan. 19, 2017, you can now ask for your money back. You have until Feb. 12 to file your claim. Here’s what you need to know:
• If you already reported your fraud loss to Western Union, the FTC or another government agency, you might get a claim form in the mail. The forms were recently mailed and will come from Gilardi & Co., which is the company the DOJ hired to handle the claims. You can file your claim online by using the claim ID and the PIN that are on the form you receive in the mail.
• If you didn’t already report your loss, or didn’t receive a claim form in the mail, go online to file your claim. Visit FTC.gov/WU to get to the claims website.
• If you are filing a new claim, or changing the pre-filled amount on the claim form you got in the mail, you’ll be asked for documentation. Upload or send copies of the receipts or “transfer send” forms you have. Give as many details as you can remember about the wire transfer. If you don’t have documentation, you can still complete the form, giving as much information as you have. The DOJ will use the information you give them and try to validate your Western Union money transfer.
Be aware claim forms ask for your Social Security number. Before they can send you a check, DOJ is required to determine if you owe money to the US government. We suggest you file your claim on the secure website mentioned above.
Also be aware that to file a claim form, the only real address that accepts claims is FTC.gov/WU. You do not have to pay anyone who says they can file a claim for you, and no one will ever ask you to give your credit card or bank account information.
Finally, after you file, you must be very patient. The DOJ says it will take up to a year to validate all the claims it receives and return money to those affected.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.